Zest

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It’s not my usual pattern, but two nights ago, I took a shower before going to bed.  (In case you are worried that I do not bathe, I’ll tell you I generally shower in the morning.) Eric had added a fancy new bar of soap to the other 97 shampoos, conditioners, exfoliants and body washes that comprise our bathtub.  I picked up the soap, lathered it.  I liked the smell, it reminded me of something, but it took me a second to place it.

I love soap.  I mean, it’s nice that it cleans a person, but it also can leave behind a pleasant fragrance.  For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, a lot of memories are tied to fragrances.  Like rose water always makes me think of my high school friend Missy. Both chlorine and suntan lotion remind me of long ago summer afternoons spent at the Riverside Park Municipal Pool.  Night blooming jasmine makes me think of those months when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Dolce and Gabbanna cologne makes me think of my first big love, the one I took so many years to get over.

It took me a second, but I realized this soap reminded me of the soap my grandfather always had in his house, something called Zest. Remember Zest? I mean, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. It was Zest, Zest in the kitchen, Zest at the bathroom faucet, Zest in the bathtub. Always Zest.

In the house where I grew up with my parents, I remember using a lot of soaps: Irish Spring, Dove, Dial, Ivory and sometimes Zest. If I begged enough, my Mom would buy me Coast. Coast was my favorite. I don’t know why I loved Coast so much, I just imagined that it was what people who spent a lot of time on yachts smelled like. I did not love Zest, nor did I hate it. Zest just was. And like I said, Zest is what always was at my grandpa’s house.

I really only knew two grandparents growing up. My mom’s father died when she was a baby and my dad’s mother died when I was not yet two. And while I always felt a kinship to my mom’s mom, Grandma Sue, a bond over Scrabble and books and reading and writing letters, my Grandpa was always a mystery.

He was a farmer. When we’d visit, he’d let me go out to the garden with him. He’d pull up young carrots and wipe them off and let me eat them fresh from the garden. I’d ask him how the watermelons were doing since they were my favorite fruit but it seemed we always had to wait almost until the end of summer before the watermelons would be ready to eat. I used to have a tomato scented candle and I loved it because it smelled like my grandfather’s garden.

In the years before I was 7, when we moved from Kansas City to Independence, in part so my Dad could be closer to Grandpa, we would drive down to the farm for weekend visits. I remember my Grandpa would fry us hamburgers for supper and on Sundays, my aunts and uncles and cousins would convene at Grandpa’s for a roast beef dinner. Tuesday night, after my shower, as I was trying to fall asleep, I wondered who prepared the roasts for those feasts. Was it Grandpa or did Aunt Kay leave church early to get a head start on the meal? I don’t know, I just remember running around in the yard, climbing the septic tank and after eating, all the men (and boys) going fishing.

If my math is right, my Grandpa was about 64 when my Grandma Avis died. When he died, more than once, I heard my Dad say that he didn’t think he ever got over losing Grandma. He never remarried, never started a new life with another woman. Tuesday night, as I lay in bed, I wondered if I had solved the mystery of the Zest. My first thought was that he bought it because that’s what she always bought. And then I went just a bit further, maybe he always used Zest because it reminded him of the good times, when the children were young, before Avis got sick.

When I looked up the definition for zest, the first one I came across was “great enthusiasm or energy.” Of my grandfather’s 7 grandchildren, I am the only one too young to not remember him in the years before he was a widower. While I only remember a stoic, serious man, maybe in his life before, enthusiastic and energetic could have described him. I don’t know.

I do think energetic and enthusiastic are words that could be used to describe me. It’s part of my undiagnosed mania. My life is always either wonderful or terrible, nothing in between. I’ve never been called stoic even once in my 46 years. Sometimes, I think, oh man, I’d KILL to be stoic, which, you know, is a very unstoic thing to think or say.

Last night, I lay in bed, still thinking about my Grandpa Carl and my Grandma Avis, their love story. When I was little my Dad would always say the best fried chicken he’d ever had was his Mom’s. If it bothered my Mom that he would say that while we were eating her fried chicken, she gave no indication. These were the handful of years right after Avis had died and I suppose it was my Dad’s way of saying, “Boy, I miss my Mom” without having to actually say it. My Dad inherited more than a little of his father’s stoicism.

I wonder what my Grandpa would say if I told him that modern version of Zest in my bathtub cost $20 a bar. (In its defense, it’s a big bar.)

There is something of my grandfather in me. I hope so, anyway. He’s been gone for nearly 25 years now, all I have is old pictures and memories and the stories my older relatives share with me. I try to make the connections.

I mentioned briefly an ex I had that, once we broke up, it took me years to get over him. There was a point when I truly thought that I never would. But I did, eventually.

I know that in the culture we live in, there is a lot of value placed on moving forward, starting anew, evolving. I suppose that is for the best, all things considered.

But I have to say there is something beautiful and touching, albeit, heartbreaking about how my grandfather never started anew. My Grandma was a ghost who was always there in that house, a ghost who always clung to my Grandpa. She was never far away. Every hymnal in the pews of the country church our family attended bore the inscription, “Provided by the family of Avis Barnhart, in loving memory.” She was everywhere. When I was 12, my parents and I went to Hawaii with my Grandpa and although he had a good time, it was said and it was understood, this was a trip he should have made with Avis. And it was also understood that, in a way, she was there with us.

When I smell anything gardenia fragranced, whether it be a soap or a perfume or a candle, I remember my two trips to Hawaii. It’s always so bittersweet because a fragrance can bring back some wonderful memories and also make you ache for what is no more. But I like the idea, and really, I know it’s just an idea, but I like to think that that Zest might have kept the memory of Avis alive to Carl. That on days after working hard on the farm, he’d come inside, lather up with his Zest and momentarily at least, get whisked away to the happiest days of his life. And when his hands were clean, all the dirt washed down the drain, he’d go about fixing a hamburger or two for himself. And trust me when I tell you, those hamburgers were the best hamburgers I’ve ever had. I can smell them now.

King of Griffith Park

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This is something I’ve been pondering for the last week, ever since Eric and I went to an open house last Sunday.  We are not in the market to buy, but Eric found out that a Los Feliz Modernist house, built by his favorite designer, Jock Peters, was coming on the market after 60 years.   So, we went to see the house.  The house was built in 1933 by Peters for Academy award winning cinematographer Alfred Giks.  Peters, who is also famous for his interior design of iconic Bullocks Wilshire Department store, passed away at 45, in 1934.  Eric’s obsession with all things Bullocks Wilshire related is what ultimately drew us to the open house.

Now, I think it’s been established, but I am a curious person and I found myself wondering about the lives of the person or people who lived in the house.  The real estate agent reminded us that the property had been owned by the same family for 60 years, that the owner had passed away recently at the age of 98.  At one point, the agent told us the man’s name, Sol Shankman.  “You might have heard of him, he was kind of famous for walking in Griffith Park everyday for 35 years.”  The agent pointed out unique features of the house, including an incredible mural in the master bedroom that had been commissioned decades ago.  But as much as Eric was interested in the bones of the house, I found myself wondering about the people who had lived there.

The second we got in the car, I Googled Sol Shankman.  You can try it yourself, if you Google “Sol Shankman King of Griffith Park”, THIS is the article that will come up first. I found the picture of the nonagenarian Shankman, in 2008, being honored by friends and family at a park ceremony.  And then I read about how he really only started walking Griffith Park in the late ’70s, about the time his wife Elizabeth passed away.  According to the article, he’d never been much of an athlete, but then, he started walking.  He was around 60.  Maybe he walked to ease the pain of losing his wife of four decades, maybe he walked because he wanted to try something new, reinvent himself.  Who knows, the point is he started walking and didn’t stop.

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He’d been a chemist, a son, a husband, a father, a business owner, a humanitarian and finally, he became a walker.  And the real estate agent was right, it ended up being his claim to fame.  His obituary ran in the Los Angeles Times, Tom La Bonge was at his memorial, his obituary called him a civic institution.

And I thought about Sol and his house and his life all week.  I’m a walker too, it’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve taken it up as sport, but I love putting in my earbuds, turning on my playlist, and hitting the road.  I love walking my neighborhood or the beach or downtown or New York or San Francisco or Kansas City or the little town where I grew up.  I like traversing main streets, bridges, parks, residential neighborhoods.  I love looking at a house thinking, I wish I lived here and appreciate looking at another one thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there!  What a gift these legs and feet of ours are.  It’s like God said, “Here, take these, see the world.”

This morning, I thought about Sol because for the first time, I went for my own walk in Griffith Park.  I mean, I’ve been there, you know, to the Observatory and to see Amy Grant at the Greek, but I had not walked it.  So I parked and I followed some people in workout wear and started a trail.  I really didn’t know where it would take me, but I wasn’t surprised when I realized I was headed to the Observatory.  And up and up I climbed until I made it to the top.  I took pictures, but the pictures didn’t do the view justice.  It was just so beautiful and, well, I know it’s a hokey word, but it was inspiring too.  It’s nice to try something new, whether you’re 22 or 46 or 60 or 93.   And I know that the title doesn’t belong to me, for, really, there can only be one, but in that moment, on this day, I felt like the King of Griffith Park.

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: “Oh Shut the Stage Door and When Thou Has Done So Come Weep with Me!”

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A few days ago, my friend Michael relayed to me something that had recently happened to him. After he told me the story, I told him that he should write a guest blog about it, the event had riled him so. And he did. I hope it was a cathartic experience for him. I will say I have been waiting at many of his stage doors, one of the pack of friends, excited to see him after a performance and wish him well. If there is a more beloved Bay Area actor, I can’t imagine who that might be. Although I can’t claim objectivity on this matter. He is writing about actors, but just as much, he is writing about friends, the scenes we play with each other and the consequences of our actions.

“Oh Shut the Stage Door and When Thou Has Done So Come Weep with Me!”

I want to preface this by saying I am aware that I am an extremely sensitive person and to be an actor you need to have a thick skin, or at least so I’m told. I just looked up the expression, thick skin: Having a thick skin or rind. Not easily offended. Largely unaffected by the needs and feelings of other people; insensitive. Nope, not me. Not by a long shot. My skin is as thin as a 90 year old albino Irish woman’s. It was closing night of a production of Romeo & Juliet I was doing with an extremely talented bunch of actor friends who basically got together and said, “Hey, let’s put on a show!” No money, we provided our own costumes and did it in the round with no set. We didn’t actually have lights until an hour before we opened! It was theatre on a wing and a prayer and we were acting by the seat of our pants and it was exciting and fun and my first attempt at Shakespeare. And the great thing was people came to see it! We were playing to full houses and the audiences were young and diverse and seemed to really appreciate the show. I should mention now that we were performing in an old dance hall and not a theatre so there was no back stage and even worse, no stage door! I’m the type of actor who plots his escape from the moment the curtain goes down. I either rip off my costume and run for the stage door before the audience has time to leave the theatre, or I sit in my dressing room and wait it out until the coast is clear. I think a lot of actors feel this way and can relate. It’s just a very vulnerable time and the last thing you want to do is talk to people about the show or even worse your performance. I can be naked on stage or perform with a 103 degree temperature but having to face people after a performance terrifies me! There we lots of fellow actors in the audience on closing night and I love my theatre community here in the Bay Area, so I had to suck it up and thank people for coming out. It was going fine as I have mastered the art of deflection in a conversation! “What show are you working on?” “Did you lose weight?” “So how’s your father?” It was all going fine when suddenly I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turn around and it was an actress I had worked with a few years back, I’ll call her Pilar. Here is basically how the exchange went:

Pilar: Hi!!! (Big hug)
Me: Hi! Thank you so much for coming! I love your coat! That’s a beautiful color on you.
Pilar: Thanks! (Long awkward pause)
Me: So pretty…(Long awkward pause)
Pilar: Did you have fun tonight? (Big smile)
Me: Yes, I did! (Big smile. I can feel the blood rushing to my face.) Pilar: Good! (Big smile…awkward pause)
Me: Okay.
Pilar: Okay.
Me: Bye.
Pilar Bye-bye.

The rest of that evening involved me badmouthing Pilar to other actors and finally breaking down and crying, asking a group of supportive friends why some people have to be so cruel? Talk about a performance?! Pilar obviously left too soon and missed my best scene!!! Why did I care so much what Pilar thought and why did I react so strongly to what she said, or more importantly what she didn’t say? I guess I just don’t understand why, if she did not care for my performance, she felt the need to come up to me? Why didn’t she just leave or better yet just say, congratulations on the show. Did she feel she would be compromising her artistic integrity? Why did she feel the need to let me know she didn’t care for the show or even worse me personally. As Blanche Debois says in A Streetcar Named Desire, “Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty of.” Going to the theatre is one of my great pleasures in life. I find it especially exciting if I know one of the actors in the show. I am filled with pride and want them to have a great show. Some shows are obviously better than others and occasionally I will disagree with a directorial choice or think someone may be a little miscast. I also know what hard work it is to put on a show and how much time and energy has been spent to entertain me for two hours. So if I stay after to see someone I know, I always greet them with a congratulations, or good show or good work because they desire that! They just gave everything they had and left it all on the stage for me, the audience. A good friend suggested that the next time I see Pilar in a show I should come up to her and ask, “Did you have fun tonight?” But I just couldn’t do that to her because she is a fellow actor, a member of my tribe and a good performer who deserves my support and respect. Part of me hopes Pilar doesn’t read this. But part of me hopes she does and perhaps she will be a little less honorable to her artistic integrity and a little kinder to her fellow thespian the next time she attends the theatre. As for this thin-skinned Shakespearean, I start rehearsal on Monday for my next show and I hope all of you will come! If you don’t see me afterwards chances are this next theater has a stage door.

How Did You Get Here, Part 2

margo martindale-thumbOne of the things that I love to do with this blog, is go through the list of search words or terms that has brought people here. Goodness knows, I spend a lot of time googling people or things, yesterday’s blog post being yet another example of such behavior. I am a curious type, some might even go so far to say I’m nosy. Others might call me Gladys Kravitz to my face. I once had a boyfriend whose nickname for me was Nosetta Barnhart.

But these search results confirm that I am not alone. I am not the only person who wondered if Rich Mullins was gay or watched Airplane on cable and had to know more about Stephen Stucker. There are others who share my devotion to Mary Tyler Moore and Eve Plumb and Faye Dunaway’s iconic post-Oscar photo by the pool. I am not the only person searching the internet looking for Herb Ritts’ pictures of Richard Gere in a Speedo.

Also, this may be bad, you tell me, but I like that folks have found my blog by searching the names of friends of mine. It’s like Michael and Michele and Linda and Kellum and Rupaul are all famous or something.

And finally, your searches will illicit my own searches. As soon as I post this, I am totally going to search the internet and find out what church Deborah Foreman does belong to. I want to know, IS Chris Kattan a jerk? Maybe I’ll find that topless Maureen Teefy photo as well as “themes for dorms for Christian guys.” DID Amy Grant and Joel Osteen ever meet?

The one thing I know for sure, is that we are all unique. Some of us are obsessed with 1970s sitcoms, others of us are obsessed with men in Speedos. The cool thing is, with only a few exceptions, this list could be a printout of the way my brain works. These people’s interests are my interests too. I always think, as imperfect as this blog is, I would love to be doing a search for Suzanne Pleshette and stumble across Easily Crestfallen. So, however you found me, I am glad you are here. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are a bit of an oddball. You and I might be the only two people in the world who are obsessed with that song from the end of Longtime Companion, but that’s okay. We are in good company!

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Dear Robert Brustein,

 Dear Robert Brustein,

Just two days ago, I didn’t even know who you were and now, since reading about you in the William Inge biography, written by Ralph Voss, A Life of William Inge, The Strains of Triumph, I have been scouring the internet, searching for all that I can glean about the man named Robert Brustein, the theatre critic, who some say instigated the beginning of the end of my favorite playwright’s entire career. (Boy, talk about a run on sentence.)

Now, I assume you remember the details, but I’ll refresh your memory. In 1958, you wrote an article for Harper’s about Inge titled The Men-Taming Women of William Inge. Within the article, you called Inge mediocre, a “dramatist of considerable limitations”, and also, a “fiddle with one string.” You took issue with Inge’s “dry, repetitive and monotonously folksy” dialogue. You painted a picture of a playwright who would not be valued in the scope of time.

According to the Voss biography and other sources as well, when the article appeared, William Inge was so upset that he called you on the phone to protest, weeping as he spoke to you.

Part of my exhaustive Google search over the last two days is an attempt to hear about the story from your point of view. In the book’s point of you, your article is labeled, the “beginning of the end” and the damage was so lasting that Inge was never able to recover from it. Don’t get me wrong, I know Inge battled deep depression throughout most of his 60, relatively short, years. I have read enough biographies to know that biographers tend to exaggerate the significance of certain life events and downplay the importance of others. Perhaps Voss exaggerated about the enduring effects of your article, which is exactly why I am writing this to you, I want your take.

I’ll tell you a bit about myself. I do not claim any sort of objectivity about Inge. I grew up in his hometown, Independence, Kansas. Like his Sonny in Dark at the Top of the Stairs, I was always passionately devoted to anything that was about Hollywood or celebrity. I loved my books, too, they were a window to the world out there, the world beyond Kansas.

Every Spring, as far back as I can remember, my town held a festival honoring not only William Inge, but also the art of playwriting. As junior high and high school students, we were bussed to the community college where lectures and performances awaited us. In my senior year of high school, I played Jelly Beamis in a Inge Festival production of A Loss of Roses. When I read your (relatively) youthful disdain for Inge in that 1958 article, I remembered a conversation I had at 17, with the director of our play. During rehearsals in the aptly named William Inge Theater, I said, “I kind of hate Inge. His plays are too depressing, why doesn’t he write happier endings?”

That was nearly 30 years ago. In that time, I went to Bible college in an attempt to not be gay, worked as a youth minister, moved to New York, came out of the closet, moved to Los Angeles, moved to San Francisco, then back to Los Angeles. I have worked in plays and television, in restaurants and law firms. I have been in love and out of it, had my heart broken significantly no less than 4 times. I don’t mean to ramble too much, but my point is that, at 17, I had no idea what the trajectory of my life was going to be and how my experiences would mold the way I absorb and respond to art, any art.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the fourth row of the Broadway revival of Picnic starring Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Grace and Reed Birney. As a Kansas boy, I was certainly proud to see my little town represented on that big 42nd street stage. I had been as proud when I’d watched the 1993 Scott Ellis production with Polly Holliday, Kyle Chandler, and Ashley Judd. But this 2013 production, really burrowed into me. I’ve always loved Rosemary and Howard. I guess you may not appreciate that iconic scene, her on her knees begging him to marry her, but it gets me every time. I’ve been the beggar on his knees and I’ve been the guy who wanted to get on his knees, to beg, but was so afraid of the consequences that he didn’t take the chance. I wept at the end of the play, it was the first Inge that my partner, then of two years, had ever experienced. We are in our forties, met in our early forties. When I was in my thirties, I never did not feel like a Rosemary Sidney, a spinster school teacher. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, if I can find love after 40, maybe there is hope that Rosemary and Howard can have a happy life. Maybe there is even hope for Madge and Hal. To me,

Inge’s work says there is always hope, even when it’s only a sliver of it. But let me stress, that’s my take. And my point of view is no doubt molded by my life experiences.

As I said, I have been on a mission to learn about you, Robert Brustein. You have accomplished much in your 87 years and that you continue to write and create is inspiring. You have been a director, playwright, professor, Huffington Post columnist, husband, father, critic. In a 2012 interview, when asked by the writer, why you aren’t resting on your laurels, you confided that you felt like you didn’t have any laurels, that you hadn’t “gotten there” yet.

Well, I want you to know that you have gotten there. You have survived and thrived and, as much as this little odyssey of mine began with disdain, it’s concluded with a true respect and admiration. That there is someone else who felt he never achieved laurels or “got there” is I’m sure not lost on you. And I must say, I wish Inge had had a bit more of you in him, that drive to keep going. I’ve read his later years pieces and without fail, there is always something in it, maybe it’s just a line or two, that moves me with its truth or perception. He wrote until the end of his life, I just wish the end had not come so soon.

So, here is the question, I don’t know how this might even find you, so, I doubt that you will be able to answer it, but do you regret any part of that infamous 1958 article? If you could go back, what would you change, what would you keep? Also, do you still feel the disdain for Inge’s writing that you felt in 1958? In the 56 years since, you have seen your own plays produced, endured the victories and challenges within, do you still see Inge the same way?

Last night, I was on Instagram, checking for hashtags. That there are only 200 pictures of #williaminge disappointed me. Maybe you have a point, maybe his enduring effects were not what the 1950s indicated they were going to be. It occurred to me that I should search for #robertbrustein, too. There were three pictures. One was a picture of a woman’s lips with a quote credited to you, another appeared to be some scaffolding and the writing was in Asian symbols, except for #robertbrustein. But the third picture was the best, my favorite. You are flocked by young college students, all clearly proud to be taking a picture with a living legend. And in the center, you stand, smiling, the elder statesman, not quite resting on his laurels, but enjoying the moment anyway. Once the critic, now the teacher. Sliver of hope.

The Differences

 

 A couple of days ago, I spent the afternoon with two friends from Bible college, Heidi and Greg, who were visiting Los Angeles with their teenage children. We walked around Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre and eventually made our way over to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was a joy to catch up with old friends and show them around my city.

Now, I know how my blog posts have a tendency to unfold. I tell a story and I say, either the people I am talking about are in the wrong or I’m in the wrong or we were both in the wrong. I’ve read the back log, I know the pattern. And especially when I write about any interaction between the gays and the conservative Christian community, I have a history of pointing fingers. Sometimes my diatribes are late night rants that I second guess in the morning. Other times, it’s something more thoughtful, a gentle nudge of “hey, let’s just look at this, how can we do better?”

Well, let me start by saying, that is not the nature of this particular blog. The hours that we spent together were lovely. I never felt a judgement from Heidi or Greg or their children about my life. The words “lifestyle choice” never came up. 

When we met, they had just come from a tour of Paramount Studios and they told me they got to meet Dot Marie Jones from Glee on the lot and Greg took a picture (or 3) with her. I thought to myself, good for them for wanting to take a picture with not only an out lesbian, but also someone playing a transgendered character on television. I honestly don’t know that every conservative Christian would jump at that photo op, but of course, it honestly moved me that these old friends did.

At one point in our afternoon, Heidi pulled out her ticket from the tour. She wanted to give the ticket to me because the quote on the ticket, credited to Cecil B.Demille, said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” There was a bit of awkwardness because I wasn’t really sure she was giving me the ticket or just showing it to me. And then she wasn’t sure if I really wanted the ticket. And then the ticket became a running joke throughout the rest of our afternoon, a punchline really. 

Heidi was one of my best friends in college. I know this won’t translate, how could it, but Heidi and another friend Sheri and I once went to a weekend conference to Lake of  the Ozarks (as glamorous as it sounds) where the entire time we kept singing this three part harmony song called “I don’t know.” All we did was sing “I don’t know” over and over and over again. Like Michael Row the Boat Ashore with significantly less lyrics. I KNOW, I told you the story wouldn’t translate but it made us laugh all weekend. It made us laugh for weeks and months and years after, too.

While I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was part of a tribe until I went to Bible college.  I just wasn’t skilled at making friends until my time at Ozark. And even though I don’t see life exactly the same way as most of my former classmates do, I still feel a connection to them. 

Tuesday night, even from the moment we said our goodbyes and our cars took us in opposing directions, I felt a little sad. I couldn’t quite name it, we’d had a great time, laughed a lot. There was still a connection, I concluded. We still have things in common. They are still the loving people I remember and I could tell, they are raising their teenagers to be loving, interesting, sharp-witted adults, too. I didn’t feel like their icky gay friend. (Note to self, HBO series pitch or perhaps just a great Katy Perry song: My Icky Gay Friend.) 

So, if they didn’t do anything wrong and FOR ONCE, I didn’t do anything wrong, why did I feel melancholy? 

It has occurred to me before, that I have spent my entire life feeling I need to explain myself. When I was a fervent, Evangelical high school and college student, there were always people who asked, “Why are you such a Bible beater?” When I came out of the closet, for years, I had people question why I would choose to be gay or choose to live the gay lifestyle. Even still, I get asked versions of that same question. I assume that, to some extent, I will contend with that for the rest of my days.

As I drove home, and later that night, I imagined the conversation Heidi and Greg might have had about me. That it was great to see me (I hope), that I’m not so gray or wrinkled or overweight that I’m no longer recognizable as the Ray they remember. But also, I imagined a sigh, and then, “He’s so special, I just wish he still loved Jesus.” In my mind, I did not imagine a judgement, merely a wish that I might still be a part of the club, or even better, the tribe, they are still a part of. 

As much as we will always have things in common, there will also, always, be differences. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

I’ve thought about that Paramount Studios tour ticket a lot since Tuesday. I did keep it. It sits on my desk now and when I look at it, I smile. This morning I saw that Heidi posted a pic of us with it, joking about my tepid reaction, and it tickled me. Nearly 30 years later, she still makes me laugh.

I always wonder how people see me, too much so.  I know. But I have to remember to think it without overthinking it. That maybe Heidi doesn’t think of me as gay or Christian or not Christian or lost or found, forgiven or I don’t know. Maybe she just thinks of me as a storyteller.

And she is part of my story, as I am part of hers.

Are You There Linus? It’s Me, Charlie.

nopimpLast week when I was writing the piece called Happiness, you know the one where I promised to stop blogging forever, I went to YouTube to watch videos of grade school and high school kids in productions of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Because it was my happiest moment, I thought I might learn something from watching videos of another generation poring their hearts and souls into Happiness the same way my 4th and 5th grade co-stars did.

I don’t know that I learned anything, per se. Kids are kids and dramatic kids are dramatic kids. Also no surprise, dramatic kids often grow into dramatic adults.

Yesterday, during my swim, I thought about where life took my friends who shared the stage with me on that hallowed Kansas elementary school production. I am only in contact with two people, one of the Lucy’s and one of the Patty’s. I’m not too sure whatever became of the other Lucy or the other Patty. Snoopy moved away in 6th grade. And I don’t even remember who played Schroeder. (No small parts, you say? Tell that to the person who plays Schroeder.) I do remember, and I’m still sure of this to this day, we were all stars in the making, Broadway ready. As if on the day of the last performance, we could have piled into Mrs. Tideman’s Buick Sportwagon, driven cross country and arrived in New York, ready to take it by storm. We were THAT good, we were Spring Awakening good.

If I overplayed every scene, my Linus, another 5th grader named Derek, deftly underplayed each of his. The tallest and smartest boy in our class, his Linus was nuanced and intelligent and thought-provoking. And the juxtaposition of 6 foot ten year old, holding a blanket and sucking his thumb, made for a pretty funny sight gag, too.

Because I was obsessed with all things Peanuts growing up, I sometimes had a hard time with the character of Linus. Is he a young Socrates or a pretentious asshole? I suppose what is brilliant about Charles Schultz is that he gave Linus his blanket (or his need for a blanket) and his thumb sucking to remind us that Linus is smart and is totally going to grow up to be governor or something but he also has his vulnerabilities. That being said, he isn’t alway the best friend to his best friend, in my opinion. For instance, when he saw that NO ONE was sending Charlie a valentine, couldn’t and shouldn’t he have sent one himself? Not one valentine for Valentine’s day? Poor Charlie Brown. Also, why didn’t he ever tell his sister to stop bullying his best friend? And you know that once CB and Linus get to high school, Linus is going to get invited to all the good parties and he’s not going to invite Charlie to them. “You wouldn’t enjoy it, Charlie Brown, just a lot of jello shots and senior quarterbacks trying to grope sophomore cheerleaders.”

As it turns out, my Linus, Derek Schmidt, is now the attorney general of the state of Kansas. In the last few months of 2014, Derek’s face and words were all over the gay press because of his role in Kansas’ battle to avoid marriage equality. In a google search I did today, I found this quote from the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, “Gov. Sam Brownback, the right-wing, homophobic Republican, and his equally anti-gay Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are trying their best to fight the order of the court.” And I know the gays tend to make sweeping generalizations, but I had to pause and ask myself, Carrie Bradshaw style, IS Derek Schmidt as equally anti-gay as Brownback?

It’s something I ponder. Yes, his role in this war is clear. He has been awarded the task of being the face and voice against marriage equality in his state. But everything I read that he says, he chooses his words so carefully, one still might wonder what Derek Schmidt truly feels about the rights of homosexual men and women. I wonder, if Derek was the attorney general for the state of Massachusetts, would he imbed himself in the fight FOR marriage equality?

I have seen Derek exactly 2 times in the last 10 years. I saw him the weekend of my 20 year class reunion and actually spent time in his home with a small group and he and his wife were gracious and charismatic hosts. Two years ago, he spoke at the William Inge Festival, and we chatted briefly afterward. He offered his condolences on the death of my father and I thanked him and told him my father was still among the living. If he felt discomfort about being in a room that was comprised of, by Kansas standards, an inordinately high percentage of homosexuals, he gave no indication. Derek has always had an simple, aw shucks, intelligence and graciousness about him. He had it at 10, when he was playing Linus.

I don’t know that Derek and I will have a real conversation about what he truly believes in his heart concerning the rights of homosexuals ever in our lifetimes. I am sure he would be guarded, choose his words carefully, wonder about my intentions. He is no longer Linus, I am no longer Charlie Brown.

I have a hope that eventually the tide will turn in my home state. I get emails from friends in Kansas who are ardently in favor of marriage equality. The last ten years have shown much progress nationally and I don’t doubt the next ten years will show even more of a shift.

As Schultz reminded us when he created the characters of Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy and Lucy and Sally and Peppermint Patty and the rest, we all have our vulnerabilites. If you’ve read even one paragraph of my blog, you’re probably well aware of mine. But I always thought there was something weak about Linus and well, I think the same about Attorney General Schmidt too.

This is conjecture. But I don’t think Derek wants to be the face againt marriage equality in Kansas, he just wants to be the face of Kansas. He sees this as his opportunity to advance his political career. It’s not about people, it’s about his career.

But for the rest of us, it is about people and I really want the gay people that live in my home state, a state I love, to have the same rights I have in California, even the same rights Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt have as a heterosexual couple living in Kansas.

Somewhere in Kansas, as I type this, there is at least one (probably more) highly emotive grade or junior high schooler belting his heart out to Happiness in preparation for a school production of my favorite musical. He will grow up in that state and at some point come out of the closet, not that it will be a surprise to anyone. He will hopefully fall in love and maybe decide to live out his life with his husband in Lawrence or Wichita or Dodge City or Independence. And this is my hope: that his best friend Linus from that long ago production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown will be there beside him at that marriage ceremony, that wedding, his best man standing up for his best friend. That’s my wish. And, good grief, I think it’s a sweet one.